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We see faded inks everyday from old murals on brick walls to labels on storefronts. But what if that label or safety identification was on a machine and necessary to prevent an operator from getting injured and it was faded or illegible? How does that OEM prevent liability and litigation from something as simple as a label? It’s all about the science!

Metal is the most durable substrate for equipment labels exposed to ultraviolet rays

Ultraviolet rays break down the chemical bonds in inks over time, causing them to fade. Visible light and heat will also have an effect on the inks and material substrates. Different inks and substrates provide ultraviolet protection for printing. Here is some quick information on the two in order to help you build the best material structure for your label or safety identification.

Material Substrates

Let’s start here because if you don’t choose the correct substrate it won’t matter much if the ink lasts or not. Metal is the longest lasting and most durable substrate you can use. Most product and safety identification labels are produced on aluminum and stainless steel due to their durability and ease of workability for printers. Both have their benefits for different application and cost considerations. Aluminum tends to be less expensive and lighter; stainless steel is used more often in wet conditions.

There are many different vinyl, polyester, acrylic and other plastic options for creating identification. It is very important to consider what type of environment that the label will end up in to make the best decision on plastics. The most important thing to consider is whether a plastic overlaminate offers a UV inhibitor in the product. This will help protect the ink from fading and make your part last longer.


Most printing converters use either Solvent, UV or Enamel inks to produce identification. Due to the integrity of the ink, enamel is the most fade resistant and durable option for outdoor applications. If your part is going to be outside and in extremely sunny conditions this is a great choice. Enamel is primarily used on metal substrates due to high fade resistant and durability requirements. 
Solvent inks also offer a lot of fade resistance to UV exposure. Solvent inks work very well on both metal and plastic substrates and are applied primarily through a screen or digital process.

People often get confused into thinking that UV inks offer the most resistance to UV exposure due to their name. They are cured or dried in the printing process when they are exposed to ultraviolet light. This doesn’t make them more resistant to ultraviolet rays or visible light however. These inks are primarily used on plastic substrates and most often should be used with a plastic over laminate for increased UV protection.

We hope this has been a little helpful with your research into options for your next custom equipment label and safety identification need. As with all printing projects, be sure to consult your printing provider for best options for your project.  

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